By Stephen Petrick
Scott Ovell has had a long and interesting career working in economic development. Now, he joins Haliburton County at an interesting time.
Ovell, Haliburton County’s new director of economic development and tourism, has joined the county at a time when the way people travel and spend money is expected to shift. His job will be to help Haliburton County businesses – especially tourism businesses – be ready to face stiffer competition for travellers’ dollars.
“COVID has amplified the number of people coming up [to cottage country] because more people were travelling domestically,” he said in an interview. “All the data and information is suggesting that people, perhaps by next summer, will be looking [to travel] elsewhere … We’ll have to try to separate ourselves and get above the noise.”
By that, Ovell means that Haliburton County businesses will have to work together to highlight what makes the area special and try to stand out from other regions. He said that a “cottage community” like Haliburton is in competition with, not just other tourism destinations around the world, but other areas of the province known for cottaging, such as the Niagara region or Collingwood area.
That means the county will have to have a solid economic development plan going forward, and people from throughout the business community will be needed to give input, he said.
“We have to work with all sectors to make the county as a whole more resilient … On the tourism side, it’s about continuing to do what we do, along with working with our stakeholders to learn what we can do better.”
Ovell has a unique background that makes him well-equipped to lead the charge. He grew up in nearby Bracebridge but moved to British Columbia to attend Thompson Rivers University. He earned a bachelor of tourism management from the school in 2003. He also minored in international development and that education provided him an opportunity to work for a time in South America, where he learned how tourism projects can lead to economic development.
He later returned to Ontario, where he has had a variety of government- and tourism-related roles. He was previously the economic development officer for the Wahta Mohawk community and, most recently, was an economic development officer for the Town of Huntsville, a position he held from 2013 until just this month. Ovell officially joined Haliburton County on Nov. 8.
Ovell said that during his first two weeks he spent much of his time getting to know local stakeholders, including county councillors. In the coming days, he’ll be involved in the hiring of a new tourism manager to work alongside him.
Ovell made it clear that he isn’t coming to his new role with a desire to achieve personal projects or instill his own mandate on the community.
“It really will be about working with county council and the townships; about getting a plan in place, asking ourselves what our priorities are. It’s about regularly updating them on the initiatives and listening to them if we need to change course.”
“It’s always exciting to work in economic development because no two days are the same,” he added. “I like to solve problems and help people and see growth and progress. It’s always exciting but there are a lot of challenges to address.”